KERNERSVILLE — It’s hard enough to get to the top of the mountain, but staying on top when everyone is gunning for you is another challenge within itself. That said, Bishop McGuinness showed Thursday night why they’re accepting any and all challengers.
The road to the 1A Soccer State Championship has run through Kernersville the past few years. The Bishop McGuinness Villains reached the mountaintop in 2017 after coming up just short in years prior.
One team that had its dreams crushed by the Villains in 2017 was Mount Airy. The Granite Bears finished the season 23-2-1, with both losses coming to Bishop. The latter of which was in the Western Regional final. Bishop went on to win the state title while the Bears watched from home.
A date circled on both teams’ calenders was October 4. A date that would see the two soccer behemoths meet for the first time since the 2017 state semis. Mount Airy entered Thursday’s showdown as the No. 4 ranked 1A team in North Carolina, while the Villains held the top spot in the division.
A match that was tied for nearly 75 minutes was finally decided when Bishop star Brandon Linares netted the game-winning goal to put the Villains ahead 2-1.
“I thought our kids played really, really good tonight,” said Bears coach Will Hurley. “I’m proud of our kids and our fans. It’s tough to win there.”
Two of the best offensive players in the state were on display in Thursday’s game. Mount Airy’s Austin Tumbarello came into the game sixth in 1A in points (54), fourth in points per match (4.2), and fifth in goals (23).
On Bishop’s side of the ball was the aforementioned Brandon Linares. The senior forward leads 1A in points (73), is third in points per match (5.2), and first in goals (34).
Containing Brandon Lineras was a focal point of preparation for the Bears. However, it was Brandon’s younger brother, Alan Lineras, that struck first for the Villains. A handball in the box just three minutes in gave Alan a penalty kick. He converted and put Bishop up 1-0.
Getting scored on early hurt the Bears against Bishop in the past. Instead of wilting under the pressure, Mount Airy fought back. A free kick from Jackson Tumbarello bounced around the Villains’ box just 45 seconds after Bishop’s goal. Kaleb Morrison finally got a foot on the ball and tied the game at 1-1.
“I told the guys that we needed to score in the first three or so minutes to counter the their goal,” Hurley said. “Goals scored that early are easier to match.”
The match went scoreless for more than an hour of game time, but wasn’t without its share of action. Bishop had a number of chances to pull ahead early in the half.
A constant threat for the Villains were Nathan Joseph’s long throw-ins. Inside of 25 yards, Joseph could send a throw-in to the Bears’ six-yard line. Ethan Hodges got a head on one of Joseph’s throws, but his shot hit the crossbar.
Mount Airy had plenty of opportunities in Villain territory that came from Jackson Tumbarello’s free kicks. Austin Tumbarello and Bryan Valadez each had shots that came from Jackson’s free kicks, but couldn’t find the back of the net.
JJ Lachino patrolled the midfield for the Bears and facilitated numerous counterattacks to Austin Tumbarello and Liam Overby. Gus O’Hale was the defensive anchor for Bishop that stopped these runs.
The second half saw the game slow down immensely. Early fouls by Bishop allowed Mount Airy to send free kicks into the box, but none got past Villain keeper Yael Guzman.
Tension grew between the teams as neither could gain an advantage. Mount Airy’s Liam Overby and Bishop’s Josh Wong, Robbie Richter and Brandon Linares all received yellow cards in the second half.
Mount Airy relied on counterattacks as time ran down. Lachino, Morrison, and Valadez closed the midfield gap and sent the ball ahead to Austin Tumbarello.
“Our counters were pretty good tonight,” Hurley said. “I though we put the pressure on them really good on the counter.”
Having been neutralized for much of the match, the elder Lineras broke free with just five minutes left in the match. Henry Klier stole the ball from Mount Airy’s backline before sending it to Brandon. Bears keeper Jesus Valadez managed to stop the first shot, but Lineras’ follow-up sailed into the net.
“We really had him shut down for most of the game,” Hurley said. “Our back line just had one of those moments where no one said ‘I got it,’ and he took it to the goal.”
Three stoppages for injuries and cards extended the final five minutes of play. A long throw from Jackson Tumbarello sailed into the Villains’ box as a last-ditch effort. He connected with Austin, but Austin’s header was saved by Guzman.
Winning the conference now comes down to who can win out. Bishop and Mount Airy will play again on October 23 in what will be the final conference match for both teams.
“I think we just gotta get prepared and finish out the conference strong,” Hurley said. “It’s going to be tough, but we’ve got to try and win out.”
Mount Airy will return to the pitch against Oak Hill Academy on October 10. Bishop will play that same day when it hosts West Stokes.
Reach Cory on Twitter @MrCoryLeeSmith